Feeling stuffy in that echo chamber?

Republished from Kentucky Lantern

Last Friday, I ran into the Anderson County judge-executive at Five Star where we were both getting gas. I had not seen him in a year. He smiled big and said, “Well hello, Miss Carter!,” walked around his truck to give me a hug, and stayed to chat about our families. 

On Saturday, a couple I used to go to church with yelled a big hello to me as they were walking into the Lawrenceburg Kroger and I was looking for a parking spot. Seeing them was a bright spot in my afternoon. 

The next day I texted a former magistrate to tell her I’d been thinking about her in Sunday school. The word ‘love’ was used in our exchange.

Twitter/X post by Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson.

I tell you this because I am an outspoken Democrat, the above folks are all lifelong Republicans, and these encounters are both routine and antithetical to what we see from too many GOP supermajority leaders and communications personnel in Frankfort who, if you follow their public comments and Twitter/X feeds, would have us believe real life in Kentucky is as snarky as they are.

It is not.

Just this week, Sen. Robby Mills — who ran for lieutenant governor alongside Daniel Cameron — posted, “Watching @KyTonightKET and listening to the leadership of the Frankfort media ‘out themselves’! They are simply not balanced…that is why our citizens are confused as to what the truth is.”

No, senator. No one outed anyone and Kentuckians are not confused. But you do have to wonder why people like Sen. Mills are so bent on creating this illusion. Does he speak in person, in this tone, to his constituents who do not agree with him politically? Does he speak to anyone in this manner? 

One of the destructive habits Donald Trump ushered in with his presidency was constant, off-the-cuff, Twitter whining by elected officials, as though being in a protected, elite position were an unbearable burden. Poor, poor me, they seem to be screaming.

When I see powerful Kentucky lawmakers on Twitter/X and elsewhere complaining about their coverage, I am reminded of the wise words of writer Anne Lamott: “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” 

The reason I have not seen our judge-executive in so long is because, after the Old National Bank shooting in April 2023, I decided to spend the entire next year outside of Anderson, up the road in Frankfort, to learn, in person, how things really work in state government, to spend hours upon hours in rooms with Republican lawmakers, and to see if the most basic firearm legislation stood a chance. 

While I am sorry to disappoint recent GOP Twitter/X hullabaloo, I am nothing so glamorous as a  lobbyist. I am just a citizen, mother, grandmother, and volunteer — read “unpaid” — trying to find a way to keep people from getting shot to death at work, school, church, etc… A timely reminder that one of the fundamental differences between real news and social media is fact-checking. 

As to potential gun legislation, what I learned this past year is that the chasm between doing what many in our GOP supermajority know (they know!) is right — like that people in the midst of a mental health crisis should not have access to guns — and the powerful seats they hold in our Republican supermajority is Grand Canyon-esque.

The seat itself must be held at all cost, and that cost, let’s be blunt, includes lives.

With the exception of Sen. Whitney Westerfield (who, it must be said, has an affable Twitter/X presence but is unfortunately leaving office at the end of this year) even the most rudimentary discussion of laws to stem gun violence in Kentucky will not occur in any public setting where it could be video recorded and, in turn, shared on social media. It is simply not done. 

Call it fear of the Trumpian social media mob; call it fear of the uninformed voter; call it fear of the constituent who gets most of their political information from non-fact-checked social media (including lawmakers and pundits who regularly post Trump-like snark); call it fear of being ousted from the Frankfort fraternity. 

Sen. Robby Mills. (Photo by LRC Public Information)

But call it what it is at its core. Fear. 

And the news media, contrary to Sen. Mills’ Twitter/X post and Trump’s unfounded “enemy of the people” refrain, serve as the voice for people who, unlike our lawmakers, do not hold positions of power. 

Earlier this month Bill Kristol, founder of The Weekly Standard, posted a quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that stuck with me: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.”

I am a Democrat living in a rural county that voted resoundingly for Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020, but I am also the person who purposely goes to Kroger on a Saturday because I want to run into folks I have not seen lately and talk to my neighbors, no matter their political affiliation. 

I spent the last year in Frankfort, attending every meeting I could and talking primarily to Republicans to, as I wrote in a recent article about Senate Bill 2, “meet with the senator because I wanted to understand both him and his bill. Was I missing something?” All it cost me was time.

The line separating good and evil is not party affiliation, it is fear of the other.  

I encourage lawmakers like Sen. Mills and anyone else who feels stuck in an echo chamber to remember that social media and professional, fact-checked news are not the same — kinda like a Mustang convertible and barbecued ribs are not the same — and that talking to people, in person, who disagree with you politically is healthy for you, healthy for Kentucky, and free of charge.

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